Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Great British Sewing Fiasco



You may be interested to know that - deep breath - I'm making a dress. With a pattern and everything.

Call it the Sewing Bee effect, call it necessity... You see, I love these dresses and smocks and tunics. But I'm currently a Girl of Slender Means. I'm also one of those people who pictures something specific in their head then goes out looking (unsuccessfully, because it only exists in my imagination) for it in the shops.


The path thus far has not been a smooth one. I started out by purchasing a pattern for a very simple dress. Size Medium. I then carefully cut the pattern out. It didn't look like a Medium to me. Not by any stretch of the imagination (or the material). I decided to be cautious and not cut into my lovely new fabric (a dark indigo, lightweight denim) but instead to cut up an old sheet. Not a vintage sheet, don't worry.

Having cut and pinned the thing together it looked decidedly petite. Wide at the shoulders and bust, narrow at the waist, and no room for those things we women have called hips. It looked, hanging up, like an upside-down triangle. Like the sketches fashion designers make. I'm pretty sure the only person with a body shape like that is Barbie.

Disappointed but relieved at having saved my fabric, I measured myself. Size 12 (or thereabouts) in off-the-peg clothing bears no relation to a size 12 in Planet Dressmaking. Or Planet Butterick, anyway.


So a week or so later I went to the dressmaking department at John Lewis. It was a bit of a journey through a lot of traffic. I bought a different pattern (Simplicity this time, in a bigger size) for a tunic along with some different fabric: a 'busy' floral to hide the inevitable first-timer mistakes. The assistant talked me through the whole process. She explained the pattern, what I needed to do and how much material was required.

On Sunday afternoon I lay the pattern pieces out as per the instructions. There wasn't enough fabric. It was literally a few inches too short. I was mortified. I had plenty of spare but only in long, useless strips. I phoned John Lewis and explained. It can't have been down to me having washed it (having only used a cool cycle on 100% cotton fabric). To be fair they said they'd post me an extra half-metre free of charge so I could cut the last piece and get cracking. It looks as though the pattern's wrong and has underestimated how much material is needed. The fact that it spells 'sleeve', 'sleve' doesn't exactly fill me with confidence either.


Anyway, now I'm waiting for a parcel to arrive. 

Fortunately I'm a stubborn Taurean type who, more often than not, refuses to lose heart because of a few setbacks.

If this tunic ever does get made (I haven't even got to the hard part, i.e. sewing, yet) I'm going to put it on and go and buy myself a bottle of something fizzy and celebratory and quite possibly spill it down my front and not care.


35 comments:

  1. Wow! You're making clothing...from a pattern...without elastic...for yourself. I'm in awe. The setbacks are only temporary; I'm looking forward to seeing the finished article :-) I know that the cutting out is the hard bit. My Grandad (before WW2) was training to be a tailor and they never let anyone near the cutting part first, you started by pressing the fabric, moved onto the sewing and pattern cutting/pinning was the last bit so you're doing really well! My plan for the summer is to make a very simple skirt (with elasticated waist) for BigR and if that works make the same (possibly a different fabric my penchant is not for pink with dolls on it) for me. Hope JL send you the fabric asap! :)

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    1. Hello! And they did - it arrived today. The long weekend means I should get the chance to get the sewing machine out (gulp!)
      I just thought, might as well go for it. Otherwise the fabric will sit untouched in a cupboard and I'll never get anywhere. The first step is always the toughest so fingers crossed it works out!

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    1. It looks even nicer now it's ironed :)

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  3. Hello Sarah,

    Well, as neither of us can even thread a needle, this all looks terrifyingly complicated. You are certainly to be commended for your determination and we shall look forward to the finished garment....will it be ready for a Christmas Party we wonder?!

    It always fill us with admiration that our upholsterer can, seemingly just by looking, determine how much fabric is needed to cover a chair or a sofa. We should be certain to have all manner of problems coming up with how much material is needed for a garment to wear....knowing us what would start out as a dress would end up as a mini skirt...or a wide belt if we were really unfortunate. No, we shall settle for the bottle of bubbly without any hint of sewing....!

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    1. I hope it's ready for summer - late spring, even! It does indeed look complicated but I'm just trying to take the whole process one step at a time instead of feeling overwhelmed and confused.
      I must say, upholstery looks an extremely skilled thing to do. I admire those who can do that.
      Oh, and the bubbly is on the shopping list!

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  4. I really hope you manage to get it made... I know how frustrating it can be. I thought I'd be a clever cloggs and adapt a vintage pattern recently (so so small) to make me a pinafore dress. It looks like and old sack that barely goes round my hips and yet hangs off my shoulders and is currently hanging off my studio door to remind me it needs finishing. That Sewing Bee has a lot to answer for!

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    1. It has! I hope you manage to get the dress right. The plan is to be able to make garments without patterns eventually but I need to get some degree of skill first I think!
      How fantastic it would be to be able to make my own clothes... One day!

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  5. the measurements on patterns seem to be so off, well maybe not off but when I worked in a fabric store people were always shocked when they discovered what size pattern they needed, measure twice cut once, lol, best of luck!

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    1. Thank you! I was pretty shocked myself at the size thing... I've learned my lesson and will always check my own measurements before buying patterns in future!

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  6. I'm sure it'll be fine. I Love those styles too but find it utterly astounding that Toast can charge £125 for a cotton top.

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    1. Crazy, isn't it? They're such simple shapes too. I'm hoping to eventually sew something similar without having to find patterns - just make what I like.
      That may be some way off but I suppose you've got to start somewhere...

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  7. You'll get there. Sewing clothes is hard. I'm sure you'll make something beautiful that looks great on.

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    1. Oh, I hope so! That and get the confidence to keep going...

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  8. Oh I love this fabric. I still have the pattern for a dress that I thought would fit but didn't.... it is really frustrating. I have recently downloaded a pattern for a tunic/dress (one pattern for both). It is from Made-by-Rae and seems straight forward with regards to sizing. It actually gives you the measurements and corresponding sizes for this particular pattern (http://www.made-by-rae.com/washi/). It tells you what measurements are relevant to choose your size. Also, you get all sizes in one pattern. There is also a sleeveless tunic pattern on this site http://www.made-by-rae.com/2013/09/ruby-dress-top-pattern-is-here/. I don't know if you read SouleMama? She shows a few versions sewn with the second pattern. Pretty. I am sure once you get sewing, it will be fun. Keeping my fingers crossed. xx

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    1. Hi Christina - thanks so much for this and for going to the trouble of adding the links. So many patterns I've looked up via Pinterest are confusing or just not what I'm after. And thank you for the SouleMama tip-off too!
      This weekend will definitely involve plenty of sewing (and no doubt frustration, but that's how it goes). And hopefully the finished tunic will be making an appearance on the blog soon!
      S x

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  9. Very sensible of you to try it out on a sheet first. I used to make my own clothes in a very slipshod manner. I don't think the intervening years have made me more any patient. Good luck and do show us the result. I too am enjoying Sewing Bee (still catching up so I don't know who won.)

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    1. Hi Lucille - I won't spoil it for you then! I wish I hadn't bothered with that first pattern at all to be honest as I quite liked the sheet! Still, lessons were learned I suppose.
      I will indeed show you the tunic when it's done :)

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  10. Oh, good luck. I dipped a toe into similar waters recently though I aimed to make a skirt (who knows why as I don't wear skirts). The first attempt ended up in the bin after the cutting stage because it was clearly more a pelmet than a skirt. The second attempt looks like a skirt (in dim lighting) but the fabric is too thin, I had to sew in a zip (!) and, though it fits, I definitely won't be wearing it. Like you, I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. There will be another attempt. Third time lucky, and all that.

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    1. Good luck! I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. I'm trying to keep the momentum up whilst I still feel doggedly determined... it can't be that difficult can it? Don't answer that!
      Keep trying, as will I (in between the Easter eggs)...

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  11. Great story so far Sarah, I also love those tunic type tops and love soft well draping linen for them but I am yet to fin the perfect pattern for me! I have pinned loads on Pinterest but still no pattern so I am eager to see what you used and how t eventually turns out. Well done for phoning John Lewis and getting more fabric. I do like a ditsy bit of floral, good luck and see you on the other side with your bubbly in hand :o) xxx

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    1. Hi Penny! The fabric arrived in today's post so I'm getting on with it this weekend. I feel oddly nervous but creativity requires a bit of bravery I suppose...
      S x

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  12. I'd love to make my own clothes but have never got beyond sewing curtains. My mother was brilliant, making all our clothes when we were little, and I remember a fitted dress with a sweetheart neckline when I was a teenager. Wish I'd learnt more from her when she was around.

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    1. I'd say curtains are a bit of a sewing achievement too! I've wanted to sew clothes for years but have always stuck to making cushions so am pushing myself at long last. Not before time...
      My mum is good at sewing too, but isn't too well at the moment so I won't be bothering her with endless questions. I'll just have to crack on and get on with it, daunting as that is!

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  13. I am glad that I am not the only one who shops for garments that don't exist other than in my head!

    How frustrating that the pattern has been wrong twice, grrr, hope you finally get some sewing done soon :)

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    1. I think we must have good imaginations when it comes to dreaming up things we'd like to wear!
      The sewing machine will be coming out of hibernation this weekend. Hopefully the air won't be turning blue as I attempt to make the tunic... at least there's plenty of chocolate in the house to keep me going :)

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  14. I'm impressed that you're sewing your own. It's something I'd love to try, something similar to yours would be nice. I'm working up to it!

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    1. Do it! I wish I'd kept up Textiles at school instead of abandoning it at the first opportunity... but it's never too late to have another go. I'll keep the blog updated with my efforts (good or bad)!

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  15. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you!

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    1. Thanks! Much appreciated (and needed) x

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  16. Oh dear what a bad introduction to dressmaking. I used to find patterns too big and would make up in a size smaller - now I find they are too small as you have. An alternative for you would be to try one of the smaller brands, like Colette - https://www.colettepatterns.com they are really in a different league of pattern and worth a try, they have a pretty new dress this year called Moneta (BTW I am not in their pay, I just love the patterns!)

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    1. Hi Catherine. Thanks so much for the comment - it's really useful to get info like this (I'd never have found that on my own). I'll definitely be taking a look,
      I know there are other patterns out there other than Simplicity, New Look etc. but don't really know how to find out about them. The beauty of blogging: connecting with like-minded people who share ideas and tips!
      Thanks again.
      Sarah :)

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  17. Ha! Oh well done you for persevering, I would've had a tantrum and opened a bottle of wine. It will be so worth it when you finish it, I am sure. x

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  18. Hope so! And I thought a toddler tested my patience! Next problem: the neckline. I'm off to the sewing shop tomorrow to ask for help. I'm determined this sewing lark won't beat me!
    It is starting to take shape though. Hopefully I'll be wearing it by the end of the week :)

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  19. Hello! Just found your blog and read this post on sewing a dress - it's hilarious! I can completely identify with this! I recently bought a pattern and some expensive linen from Merchant & Mills. Got the small size. Didn't do a sensible trial one out of an old sheet like you. Now I have a ridiculous sack-like smock that nearly reaches my ankles and that I will probably cut up and turn into something else useless at some point in the future! And I have a Bernina. The shame of it.
    Kate (Loopandbar) x

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